The education ministry’s extension of hours for state-run preschools and kindergartens raises practical and educational questions.
In the last several years, Israel’s education ministry has been gradually extending the hours of gan (preschool or kindergarten) for 3 to 5 year olds.
“Pre-pre-compulsory” (trom-trom chova) and “pre-compulsory” (trom chova) frameworks for 3 and 4-year-olds, are not required for all children. All municipalities provide a framework for 4- and 5-year-olds, and many have them for 3-year-olds as well. In Petach Tikva, for example, only a percentage of 3-year-olds are in a municipal preschool, with the rest going to private programs or daycare. Kindergarten (gan chova) is required for five-year-olds, and paid for by the government.
For many years, public gan operated from 8:00 to 13:20. Several years ago, the ministry extended the ending time by ten minutes. The education ministry provides the teacher, while the municipality provides the assistant (so they never go on strike at the same time). We paid for the food, via the municipality. At 10:00, the children had a sandwich with chumus, soft cheese, tuna or egg salad along with vegetables. At 12:00, children got a taste, either a fruit, pretzel or cracker, or occasionally candy. In most municipalities, parents send food from home.
This year, all of the state-run ganim around the country operate until at least 2 PM. This is part of ofek hadash (new horizon), the master plan by the education ministry meant top improve educational outcomes by increasing the amount of time the children spend with their teachers individually and in groups. It helps teachers by increasing their salaries, as well as their hours. (The head of the upper school teacher’s union announced in radio ads that teachers’ pay has increased by 50 percent and there would be no strike this year. I gather we are supposed to be grateful.)
A large part of the motivation is economic. While the government will need to lay out more in teacher’s salaries, the additional weekly hours of childcare will help more mothers return to the workforce. And ultimately, gan for 3- and 4-year-olds will be both free and compulsory.
Educational Opportunity for Children?
Does the new arrangement benefit children? Elana Strobinsky, at the Life Center website, argues that more hours in a group setting hurts them. The first showed that the longer preschoolers spent in a group setting weekly, the more behavioral problems they have including tantrums and aggression. A second study measured cortisol levels, an indicator of stress. Children who spent the day in a group setting showed increased levels of the “stress hormone” throughout the day, while those cared for by a family member or babysitter showed decreased levels.
Update: Elana sent me two links:
- The Dark Side of Preschool at Parenting Science has citations at the end.
- Children’s Elevated cortisol levels at daycare: A review and meta-analysis, from the Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
A Ganenet’s View
I asked a local ganenet (preschool teacher) for her opinion. This is the third consecutive year that her gan finished at 2 PM. During the first year, she taught three-year-olds. They had attended a daycare center the previous year, where they ate lunch at 12:00 and napped at 12:30. During the first week, she let the parents come early until the children adjusted. Some parents wanted to continue to pick up their children at 1:30 but they soon realized that the kids adjusted. The 4- and 5-year-olds have no problems.
The ganenet mentioned that there is another program called yom limudim aroch in Judea and Samaria and a few other places. There, preschool ends at 3:30 but the children get a real lunch. She thinks that neither of the options truly serves children, but prefers the 3:30 ending time because of the lunch.
I also asked her about the policy of the education ministry. According to reports, it has threatened to punish teachers who allow their parents to retrieve children early on a daily basis. A mother writing in the alon Olam Katan accused the ministry of Bolshevik tactics, effectively keeping their children prisoner to a long day that adversely affects their development.
The ganenet I spoke to explains why she supports the ministry’s policy of allowing early pickup on a one-time basis only. “I plan my program around the hours that are given to me. If I teach a topic at 1:30 and a child is not there, the next day he will be behind the other children. I can’t plan a curriculum around two different ending times. I’m not in favor of either long-day option, but once implemented the ministry is right to enforce it.”
The article in Olam Katan mentioned that parents who want to take kids home early every day can coordinate it with the Education Ministry. I’m curious about how flexible they will be.
What the Parents Said
I took a poll both on Twitter and Facebook to get reactions. Here are some of the responses (thanks to everyone who replied!)
Tziona from Hispin: More hours of childcare, but 2 pm is late for such a young child to wait for lunch. Many kids this age are still napping in the afternoon and its a late hour to put a child down to sleep.
Chaya in Jerusalem: 4-year-old twins are adjusting nicely. The parents need to fill out a form if they want to get the kids early on a particular day.
Galit from Gan Yavneh: 2 pm is too late for my almost 3 year old. They neither get the rest they need nor the nourishment. Too tired to eat at home. I don’t find any benefit from 30 extra minutes of babysitting with this new Ofek– I believe its hard for the gan teachers as well. The Ministry note we got said they should be given food to alleviate hunger at 12 at gan. Why not just feed them properly? and they should be kept active in order to prevent falling asleep in the gan. Why not let them leave early at 1 or allow parents to pick up early so that they do rest? Or alternately provide for an adequate place to sleep in gan till 3 or 4? I dont like 2 pm. Its neither here nor there. Just like everything else in Israel, these things come before the proper infastructure is put in.
Leah Aharoni: “Almost 3-y-o, Finishes at 2 PM. The ganent and the parents decided to provide crackers/cookies for the 1 Pm snack so that everyone will say a uniform bracha (I think proper individualized nourishment is more important at this age, but who am i to argue) I don’t think we’ve had enough time to adjust yet, especially as she is used to having a nap around 1 PM, but she is fairly tired when she gets back.”
Devo from Ariel: My son finishes at 3:30, Tuesday at 1:30 and Friday at 12. For the most part since i’m a WAHM. But he comes home exhausted most days and by 5:30 is ready to go to sleep. Also pick-up for my Ma’on kid is between 3:30 and 4 so it’s run to gan then run to ma’on in the other direction. we don’t have a car.
Amanda from Jerusalem: I have a nearly 4-year-old who ends at 2. It’s difficult to arrange things to synch up with the home schedule of the two younger ones, particularly naps. The oldest still pretty much needs one, but it’s hard to get the 2.5 year old to sleep at that time also (rather than earlier). Unless yo really make a pest of yourself trying to buzz in at the gate, I can’t imagine trying to get them out early on a regular basis.
Oshrat in Tel Aviv: My son is not yet 3. He’s in city “trom trom” until 2, afterschool daycare is till 4:30. Lunch is at 2:15. It’s a lot for such a little man to adjust to. It’s a special kind of jetlag.
Vasilisa from Jerusalem: “Character will have his fifth birthday in October. Last year – 3:30 total disaster. getting notes “you son slept during ‘meeting’ and missed important material. Please check his Iron” in all sort of forms. Young man was rising with the sun. This year: 2.00 wakes up at 7 and no more sleeping issues. Clearly this year made THE difference. Should have stayed in cozy nursery school with mattresses for one more year.
Gila from Modiin: I don’t understand why gan needs go to until 2 but 1st and 2nd graders can get all their learning in by 12:45.
Kate: I was originally extremely upset about the time change, because there was a half hr gap between pick ups from school and gan–which are about 100 feet apart. It actually is turning out great, b/c I can sit with my daughter in an empty classroom and do 25 minutes worth of homework with her! I still maintain that 2:15-2:30 is very late for lunch for them–they have a snack at about 12:30–and it’s been hard to imagine that the extra half hour is going to achieve what the ganenet told us it’s supposed to (more time individually with her and/or in small groups).
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